Changing from Visibility to Invisibility—An Intersectional Perspective on Mixedness in Switzerland and Morocco
2. Methods and Data
3.1. The Construction of the Other in Switzerland and Morocco
3.2. (In)Visibility of Mixedness and Its Influence on the Experiences of Binational Children
Birgit: [...] but I want them to know that I have Irish roots and I am not a Swiss cheese. ((laughing)) Well, you know what I mean.I: YesB: It sounds more interesting, let’s say it that way.
3.2.1. Finding Strategies to Reduce the Risk of Racialization
Resisting the Either-or-Structure—Racialized Mixed Children in Switzerland
Sara: I would say that I feel like I belong more to Switzerland [...] but you’re just never seen as that by others, because you just don’t look the same. So, you know yourself that you’re not one hundred percent that. […] That’s why you identify with the two places.
Finding Niches of Belonging—Racialized Mixed Children in Morocco
Abdoulaye: [...] you can even see Moroccans who are black. So, the only distinction between them and me is in the name. In the first name. you see? My name is Abdoulaye, so when I meet a group of people who don’t have a culture that’s a little bit open, who aren’t open, I introduce myself as Abdullah. [...] and at a certain time [in my life]. I even considered myself as a black Moroccan, a Sahrawi, because my mother is Sahrawi but there you go.
White Privileges?—Experiences of Othering of Mixed Children of European Descent in Morocco
Nadine: In the street, I had a bit of trouble, I felt a bit rejected because people saw me as a foreigner. [...] in the cab for example when I said that I was Moroccan and that I didn’t speak Arabic very well [...]. They said to me ‘what do you mean?! You are Moroccan, and you don’t speak Arabic?! It’s not normal!’ well why? [...] So ... I felt a bit like a foreigner here.
3.2.2. Becoming (In)Visible through Language Practices
Facing a Monolingual Habitus in Switzerland
Entering Contexts of Belonging through Practices of Language in Morocco
Every time someone is confused about me, they come and talk in French. They speak to me badly. And as soon as I say a word in Arabic dang! All of a sudden I get much more respect […] and they apologizes […] Initially they’ll assume you are a foreigner but as soon as you speak a word in Arabic dang! you are part of the Moroccan people. Whether you’re black or not you are one of them.
John: [Being considered French] helps sometimes… In the sense that people may have a higher opinion of me […] they take me more seriously when at first sight I seem to be a foreigner. Yes, for example, I quite often realize that people speak more nicely with me in French.
3.2.3. Religion as an (Un)Visible Marker?
Becoming Visible—The Case of Mixed Children of Arab Descent in Switzerland
Leyla: I was always considered Swiss. Only later, in high school, they did ask me ‘but you’re from Tunisia, why aren’t you wearing a headscarf?’
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
For a critical discussion how studies on ‘cross-border marriages’ reinforce nation-states’ concerns by such categories see Moret et al. (2021). The authors emphasize that researchers should analyze the difference within these families as an empirical question and that we should carefully distinguish between categories of practices and categories of analysis. My aim to use an intersectional approach for the international comparison instead of comparing national origins goes hand in hand with this argument (see Section 2).
The term “children” refers here to the generational position the individual occupies in the mixed family and does not reflect the actual age of the person, as the respondents here are adolescents and adults aged between 16 and 28.
In Morocco binational couples are still a marginal phenomenon. Most of them are formed with partners from Europe. I observed a differentiation of the European origin in the social perception—due to the colonial past with France, the Arab Spanish conquest and close economic relations with some European countries. Hence, I differentiate between individuals with a parent from Central (three), Southern (one) and Eastern (one) Europe. Binational couples between a Moroccan and a partner of another Arab Islamic country were not considered in this study because these couples are perceived as similar by Moroccans and hardly experience othering processes (see also Therrien 2020).
In Switzerland for example, there was an interview partner telling me in the beginning that she might not be the right person for my research as she is not a “migrant” herself. And when I explained an interview partner in Morocco that he will recognize me because “I am tall and look like an European”, he laughed and replied “you can also recognize me because I am black”.
Culture was also enshrined in 1991 as a category in the Immigration Act by the ‘three-circles-model’ which defined the ‘other’ by his/her cultural difference. Although this model was abolished with the integration into the Schengen area, the notion of cultural difference is still present in the political discourse and in the integration act, forcing for example people who are assumed to be culturally very different (the former third circle and nowadays all nationals from outside Europe, US and Canada) to sign an integration contract.
The northern and southern part of Morocco were under the Spanish protectorate and gained independence in 1956 and 1958 respectively.
There is a separate constitution for Moroccan Muslims and Jews.
The national identity has been slightly transformed in recent years with the new constitution of 2011, in which the cultural heritage of the different ethnic populations—such as Amazigh, Arabs, Sahrawis, Jews and Muslims—on the territory is emphasised (Mourji et al. 2016).
All names used in the empirical examples are anonymized using names that reflect the cultural origin of their actual name. As different studies show, name can become a visible marker for mixed children (Therrien 2020; Osanami Törngren and Sato 2021). Further, for Morocco, only regional origins are mentioned for confidentiality reasons.
Many binational and middle-class Moroccan families send their children to international schools where English or French is the main language. Further, especially in Rabat, it is possible to live without knowing Arabic because French is a common language in daily interactions.
Exoticizing a language as something ‘interesting’ may first be seen as positive but it enhances the particularization of mixed children and should not be confused with recognition.
They tend to emphasize their Swiss grandparents, typical “Swiss” things in their family or make jokes about their “other” origin in order to distance themselves from ‘the other’ and establish belonging to Switzerland.
In my sample, only Nadine Bourras, who is of European-Moroccan descent, did not speak Arabic at all. This is due to her parents’ decision to distance themselves from Moroccan culture and to the fact that she went to a private French school, where only little classical Arabic was taught. Her position is precarious, as she feels on the sidelines of Moroccan society,“like a foreigner” in Morocco.
This provision leads some binational couples to marry abroad. In this case, however, the foreign partner does not receive a settlement permit via family reunification, but must enter Morocco via the labor migration route. Work such as Cerchiaro and Odasso (2021), Cerchiaro et al. (2015), Odasso (2016) and Therrien (2014) shows that bi-religious families have to deal with particular negotiations with regard to the upbringing of the children and the relationship to the extended family. In my sample, however, religion was not challenging the identifications of the individuals I met. This does not mean that some were not searching for an own approach to their religious heritage, but it was not experienced as a threat to their identity.
A similar observation can be done for Sara Bhumibor who was raised in the Christian and Buddhist religions; she now defines Christianism as a belief and Buddhism as a philosophy, which allows her to embrace both without denying one of her parents. Cerchiaro (2020, 2022) labeled this kind of attitude of bi-religious mixed individuals as “spiritual identification” pointing to the anti-dogmatic position and the high reflexivity the individuals develop. The examples of Sara and Leyla suggest further that bi-religious affiliation is even more incompatible than a binational origin, a hypothesis on which I cannot elaborate further here.
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Gilliéron, G. Changing from Visibility to Invisibility—An Intersectional Perspective on Mixedness in Switzerland and Morocco. Genealogy 2022, 6, 30. https://doi.org/10.3390/genealogy6020030
Gilliéron G. Changing from Visibility to Invisibility—An Intersectional Perspective on Mixedness in Switzerland and Morocco. Genealogy. 2022; 6(2):30. https://doi.org/10.3390/genealogy6020030Chicago/Turabian Style
Gilliéron, Gwendolyn. 2022. "Changing from Visibility to Invisibility—An Intersectional Perspective on Mixedness in Switzerland and Morocco" Genealogy 6, no. 2: 30. https://doi.org/10.3390/genealogy6020030